The great fears

Daily Reading for June 19

We fear physical pain, aging, dying. We fear the force of our own distress or depression. We fear being so easily bogged down, bringing no identifiable goodness into the world. Praying takes us right into the middle of these fears and opens their constant little trickle into a swift running stream, for in prayer every early effort to still our fears only intensifies them. We try all the familiar tricks—reciting familiar set phrases, psalms, hymns. We count numbers, we do breathing exercises. But fear persists and will not be removed by any of the consecrated relaxation procedures, by tranquilizers, by liquor, or drugs. Like the collective effort of a congress of mice in our walls, fear gnaws at us, weakening and threatening to bring down our house. . . .

God does not ever altogether remove our fear. What he does is to join us in it. He is there where we are afraid. That is the way of the cross, of the tree of life. That is the way of the God who enters our life even in the face of death. That is the way of the vow of obedience in religion. It strikes to the heart of our fear. It tells us to be obedient to our love even unto death. It instructs us not to run or attempt to run from the inescapable fact of the contingency of our being. We cannot protect those we love from suffering. We cannot be sure that we will hold onto our own sanity. We cannot guarantee peace or good will on earth. There is no sure answer to these great fears. There is only one help for them—to surrender them into God’s hands. We must do all we can and still give them over into God’s care. Our fear brings us right to the point where we can accept the fact that we are subject to God’s will and not simply to our own.

From Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer by Ann Belford Ulanov and Barry Ulanov (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982).

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